Friends, media remember Mary Frances Fagan at memorial

Roger Ebert called her the “guardian angel” of his annual film festival.

Tom Kohlbeck, lay minister from St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church, said she was a “human shopping center of generosity, friendship and love.”

Gary Mack, a former media advisor to Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, will always remember her “wry, mischievous smile.”

We, at the Chicago Journalists Association, will remember Mary Frances Fagan for all that and so much more.

CJA had the pleasure of having Fagan serve on our Executive Board for the past eight years.

“During my 15-year tenure as president of the Chicago Journalists Association, I always sought to recruit journalists who could help us maintain a legacy that began nearly 80 years ago when our organization was founded. Mary Frances Fagan accepted my invitation approximately eight years ago,” said retired CJA President Allen Rafalson.

“Although I only knew her as an outstanding spokesperson for American Airlines, and an individual who frequently attended our annual awards’ dinner, I quickly discovered she was much more: a former journalist, political pundit and an individual much respected, admired and readily available to help others,” said Rafalson.

“She wasted little time in her new post, making recommendations that eventually made CJA an even more effective organization. We listened. We learned from her. And CJA is forever grateful for her contributions.”

At the April 14 memorial, held at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, roughly 125 friends and colleagues shared fond memories of the longtime airlines spokeswoman who died in February after a yearlong battle with a brain tumor.

As guests mingled, photos of her were sprinkled across tables and flashed across a large screen. And once the speeches began, it quickly became apparent that she touched many lives throughout her accomplished media career, from Illinois Statehouse radio reporter to American Airlines spokeswoman, to assistant press secretary for Govs. Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar.

Broadcaster and museum founder Bruce DuMont kicked off the ceremony, noting Fagan was one of only three board members in the museum’s 35-year history who showed commitment to the building’s mission. Friend and former colleague Betsy Shepherd presented a resolution on behalf of the Chicago City Council, commemorating Feb. 28 as a day honoring Fagan.

Several others took the stage to share memorable Fagan stories, such as her daily chats with former American colleague and mentee Andrea Huguely: “My favorite quality that MOF [Fagan’s nickname] displayed? It was her generosity. She was so generous with her time,” Huguely said.

At times, speakers’ voices quivered, as they held back tears. And an occasional audience member could be seen dabbing his/her eyes. But when the crowd first caught a photo of Fagan wearing her signature fur coat and white Cossack-looking hat, laughs were plentiful.

“She was a light in the darkness, which occasionally surrounds nonprofits such as ours. She will be missed,” said Rafalson.